One of the biggest conceptions about meal planning and prep is that it is overly complicated and takes a ton of time-- and for this, I see so many moms paralyzed at the thought of planning and prepping ahead. Or, they're afraid it's going to be chicken-and-broccoli-in-tupperware level boring and they'll be sick of it two days in. That doesn't need to be the case, either, mama! But I get it- because that's exactly how I felt.
I was sure that with my creative nature, I was going to be sick of the food I'd prepped and throw my plan out the window, wasting money and time in the process. I thought it would feel like dieting, having food ready in the fridge- like I didn't have any options. But once I learned that there is more than one way to plan and prep- and that it is possible to have a flexible plan and prep that can allow me to be creative with my meals, but still organized, I finally jumped on board. And what I found was, meal planning + prep simplified my mama life and freed up space in my life in ways I never thought possible.
So how does meal planning and prep simplify my life (and how can it simplify, yours?!) 1. Meal planning saves me time at the grocery store.
Ever walk into the grocery store with a list of the basics- 'milk, eggs, bread', you know- that kind of thing... and leave with an empty wallet and a cart full of food you have no idea what you're going to do with? I see SO many moms in this pattern. You think you have a rough idea of what you're going to make for the week, but whiny kids, shiny sales and enticing packaging have you filling your cart with a myriad of ingredients that don't really create any actual meals. Or at least nothing your kids will eat. Meal planning ahead of time can cut that grocery trip in HALF, or less. By having a plan you know exactly what you're going to put in your cart. You can budget better (more on this, soon!) and get out of the store quicker, to spend more time with your family- or more time prepping (if you thought grocery shopping was exhausting enough, who has time to prep?!).
2. Meal planning takes the guesswork out of 'what's for dinner'?
If you leave the store with a cart like the one I described above, of COURSE you're going to be opening and closing your fridge and staring blankly at your pantry wondering 'What's for dinner'?! That is precious time, mama! Time you could spend playing with your kids, throwing in a load of laundry (real life isn't glamorous, but that load of laundry might mean extra time sitting on the couch to relax for a few minutes after the kids go to bed!) or actually MAKING DINNER. Dinner comes together faster, you have more buffer time in the evening without screaming kids tugging at your legs asking for 'another snack'. You've got this, girl.
3. Meal planning allows me to create healthy meals for my family, easily. Yes, I'm a nutritionist, so I know how to create healthy meals. But when we start from scratch (and a cart full of random) without a plan each and every week, we start getting tired of the 'What's for dinner?!' game, fast. We start to rely on convenience foods more than we ever thought we would-- frozen pizza, pasta, hot dogs... meals become less balanced and more throw together because when life gets crazy, especially during the busy school months- we don't have the time to pull together a plan each and every night. So we rely on the easy stuff, over and over- and it becomes a pattern. Which brings me to my next point...
4. Meal prep saves me a TON of time in the kitchen.
Yes, you'll need to invest a little up front to save the time during the week, but believe me when I tell you it is SO, so worth it when it's Wednesday night and you have karate at 4, daddy gets home at 5:30 and the little one goes to bed at 6:30... and somehow, you need to squeeze in a meal everyone will eat and is hopefully balanced, too. See why we end up relying on convenience foods? No more 90-minute meals, mama. Prepping for an hour or two on the weekend gives you a head start for the week. And this might look different for everyone. I go over the three types (plus a bonus on freezer prep) of meal prep in my online course. This might mean having everything ready to throw in the slow cooker in the morning before you leave the house, so dinner is ready when you get home, or a casserole prepped to pop in the oven, or the ingredients on hand to create quick meals on the fly.
5. Meal prep allows me to be creative, in a structured way.
If you're the creative type, meal prep might feel a bit like you're you're being shoved in a box. But what I like to ensure my clients is that just because you prep doesn't mean you need to create whole meals. Sure, you'll have a plan- but that plan could say 'chicken and veggies' and simply having chicken and veggies on hand, prepped and ready to go means salsa verde chicken bowls over cauliflower rice with sliced cabbage and guacamole, or it could mean stuffed baked sweet potatoes with shredded chicken, broccoli and cheddar; zucchini noddles with chicken, sundried tomatoes and pesto, or one-pan fajitas. Dinner comes together in no time- and you could be creative at the same time.
6. Meal prep saves my mornings. It's not just about dinner-- when life is busy, I often see breakfast getting thrown out the window. Suddenly, scrambled eggs and spinach becomes pop tarts running out the door or super smoothies become bagels and peanut butter. You and your kids need a healthy, blood sugar balanced start to your day to stay full and focused throughout the morning. Having ingredients or simple foods prepped ahead for breakfast can make a WORLD of difference in your mornings. Smoothie bags, chia pudding, egg muffins, banana bread-- these can all be very simply prepped ahead for faster, less-stress mornings.
7. Meal prep makes lunchtime a breeze. I don't know about you, but somehow becoming a mom made lunchtime the HARDEST EVER. Everyone is hungry and wanting food, you have to pee so you're trying to get it together as fast as you can, but you need to feed the baby, so you sit down to feed her and leave her a mess, with your four year old so you can run to the bathroom, then by the time they're done and all cleaned up, it's nap time, and by the time the baby is down for a nap and your four year old is set up with play dough, it's 2pm and you're STARVING and then you look in the fridge and... nada. Just me?! Lunchtime is HARD, especially for us mamas- but we NEED that lunchtime fuel! Lunch is prime time for energy, for us busy mamas and if we don't fuel well, the rest of our day isn't going to look all that great. Grabbing a bar while running around does not make for an energized afternoon. You need to take care of yourself as much as you take care of the kids to BE the mama you want to be. Prepping lunch ahead is arguably THE best way you can simplify your life, by giving yourself the gift of an easy lunch, every day. Some of my favorites include power bowls, chicken salad, lettuce wraps, burrito bowls, chopped salad or good old leftovers (but PLAN for those leftovers, mama!).
The list could go on and on. But my point is-- don't write off meal planning and meal prep because you think it's going to make your life harder! On the contrary, that one or two hours you spend planning and prepping ahead can save you HOURS of time and a TON of stress in the week ahead. And with the busy school time coming quickly, now is the PERFECT time to create a new routine for meal planning and meal prep for a healthier life.
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